Couples' 68 has him in the running

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - He's baaaaack.

Like his namesake in those 1980s horror movies, the golf career of Freddie Couples hasn't been killed off yet. A bad back, a bad marriage and a bad attitude brought Couples down from the top of the world rankings, but his immense talent keeps giving him a chance to win another major championship.


It happened two years ago at Augusta, where Couples led the Masters with six holes to play. He drove into the trees and, after pitching into the fairway, put his approach on the par-5 13th into Rae's Creek. He triple-bogeyed the hole and wound up losing to Mark O'Meara by a shot.

Couples gave himself another opportunity to back up his only major championship - the 1992 Masters - with a 4-under-par 68 yesterday in the second round of the 129th British Open. It could have been even better, but after going to 8-under through 15 holes, Couples hit his approach on the par-4 16th into a bunker and ended up with a double-bogey.


"It would mean everything in the world," said Couples, 40, whose previous victory was at the 1998 Memorial Tournament and goes into today's third round five shots behind Tiger Woods. "It would be the greatest win I've ever had."

There was a point in his career when Couples might not have said that, during his short-lived and not very happy time as the No. 1-ranked player in the world. It was also a time when his personal life was falling apart with the collapse of his first marriage and, later, the death of both of his parents.

The back problems that plagued his career have subsided. He is happily remarried and helping raise his two stepchildren. He has played more this year than he did all of last year, and he should wind up with more tournaments than in any year since 1992. All he needs to do now is win again.

"I still want to play well and win," said Couples. "That's my goal. My age is not a factor as far as my career. I think I play better now than I did right before and just after I had that hot streak for a couple of years. But at that time I probably couldn't have played any better ... I feel like I hit the ball better. I just don't score like I used to."

Couples has played well over his career in the British Open. His first trip was here in 1984, when he finished tied for fourth and watched from the stands as Seve Ballesteros pumped his fists making one big putt after another. He has finished in the top 10 six times since.

Young Americans

For a couple of British Open rookies, Americans David Toms and Steve Flesch continue to play well. Toms shot a 5-under 67 for a two-round total of 8-under 136 and is three strokes behind Woods. Flesch followed an opening-round 67 with a 70 and is four back.

"My first goal was to play on the weekend," said Toms, 33, who has won three times in eight years on the PGA Tour and finished tied for 16th at last month's U.S. Open. "Just to see that experience with all the people out there, and it being a major championship."


Toms will get to see plenty of people today, in the final pairing with Woods. Flesch, too, will get his share of a gallery since he will be playing with European favorite Sergio Garcia of Spain.

"I've learned one thing, I've got to quit being so hard on myself, expecting everything to happen so easily," said Flesch, also 33 and looking for his first win in three years on tour. "I have to be patient, hack in there, play the game. I hopefully can play the way I played the first two days."

Fashion statement

Gary Player, who missed the cut after shooting rounds of 77 and 79, showed up yesterday wearing the same kind of pants that got him kicked off the Old Course here in 1960 during a practice round by officials of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.

Player was the defending champion that year. The pants that got Player in trouble had one leg that was black and the other that was white, which Player wore to protest apartheid in his native South Africa 40 years ago. Player didn't have any problems with the R&A; yesterday, just the golf course.